Saturday, March 23, 2013

Petroselinum crispum root parsley: A surprise vegetable tells the rest of the story.

For most of you, the vegetation shown above will probably be unfamiliar. I’ve known about it all my adult life from reading, but until the other day I don’t think I had ever encountered it in a grocery store. It’s what in the old days was called Hamburg parsley (and by old days I mean when Hamburg refered to the city, not to a meat patty), but it was also known as root parsley or parsley root among other names. It is a form of true parsley. The foliage is coarser and rougher than that of the usual culinary parsleys such as the curled sorts or the flat leaf sorts, and the flavor is a bit more assertive. The entire plant is edible. I’ll boil the chopped roots with potatoes to make parsley flavored mashed potatoes tonight.

A year or two ago I was listening to a local radio broadcast for which several local vegetarians were being interviewed. One of them got on the topic of parsnips: she woke up everyone who knows parsnips  with this claim: after you have eaten the parsnip roots, be sure to eat the greens attached to them because they are parsley. In fact, not only are parsnips and parsley different species in different genera, but some people have an allergic reaction to parsnip foliage! See the Wikipedia entry for a discussion of the phytophotodermatitis which can result from contact with parsnip foliage.
How in the world would someone with an interest in vegetables come to make a claim like that? When I was picking out my root parsley at the grocery store the other day, I think I was shown how. As I picked up the bunches of root parsley (imagine white carrots with a bushy head of parsley-like foliage), a woman who had been watching me finally asked “What are those, parsnips?” They do look like parsnips. As I heard that question I thought back to that radio broadcast: I’ll bet that the young woman who made that terrible mistake about parsnips and parsley had sometime been around someone who used root parsley as a parsnip substitute in cooking –or, maybe it was just someone who never learned the difference and thought the root parsley was a form of parsnips. Maybe they had been using root parsley all that time thinking they were parsnips with edible leaves.

I don’t think you will ever see parsnips sold in the grocery stores with their leafy tops still attached: carrots yes, root parsley yes, but not parsnips.

And should you ever brush against parsnip foliage (it’s a common weed locally) keep the area touched by the foliage out of the sun until you get home and can wash it off.      

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